Sky’s backer heads for New York

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Team Sky continue to fascinate by their professionalism and new methods. The road team is just one visible element of the Sky sponsorship deal, the aim is also to back the Great Britain team ahead of the Olympics and the expected gold mine in the London velodrome. But for all the excitement generated by the arrival of a big sponsor into the sport, I wondered what financial interest Sky had in backing the sport.

James Murdoch and Dave Brailsford

Long distance sponsors: Murdoch and Brailsford

But one big factor in the sponsorship isn’t business, it’s personal. Sky’s James Murdoch is a keen cyclist who rides a lot, doing the Etape du Tour and other cyclosportives as well as hanging out with his riders.

For some time Murdoch Junior has been based in London where he’s been the Chairman of BSkyB, the British TV arm of the Murdoch / News Corporation media empire. He’s also been Chairman and Chief Executive of News Corporation, Europe and Asia. In other words he’s been close to the team in every sense.

Job change
But now changes are happening. He’s becoming Deputy Chief Operating Officer of News Corporation and with this, moving to New York. If you’re wondering what family and boardroom jobs have to do with cycling, well I’ll repeat that he’s a keen cyclist and this went a long way to putting Team Sky on the road.

One to watch
It’ll be interesting to see if there’s any shift in focus now James Murdoch moves to New York. Perhaps he’ll continue to travel to London? Perhaps he’ll want to add a couple of US riders to his team? But it’s also possible that his personal interest in the team fades. Sponsorship deals don’t last forever.

CD April 6, 2011 at 8:42 pm

He should start racing in NYC. Great racing scene here. Tons of races and you can’t beat Central Park for a course.

Andy Powers April 6, 2011 at 10:01 pm

Look beyond James Murdoch’s personal interest in sponsoring the team and what do Sky get for their sponsorship? I’ve yet to see a plausible answer to that question.

STB April 6, 2011 at 10:46 pm

Sponsoring the cycling team is also a PR exercise in the UK and helps their image when having to deal with the government over touchy issues such as the recent takeover of BSkyB which has a lot of opposition in the UK, and also the phone taping scandals associated with the Murdoch owned “News of the World”. Their is a large anti-Murdoch and anti-Sky feeling in the UK so this kind of sponsorship is just part of the marketing mix to make Sky look good to the general public.

No doubt James Murdoch’s interest in cycling has helped, but ultimately the reason for the sponsorship (as with all sponsorship) is brand recognition and enhanced customer awareness (and sales).

Sky also sponsor other suitable projects which meet their branding and marketing requirements, e.g. The National Trust, see this link ;

http://www.marketingmagazine.co.uk/news/538583/Sky-backs-National-Trust-1m-sponsorship-deal/

Sponsorship is just part of the marketing mix, and for a large company like Sky this is cheap investment.

Eventually the deal will end, maybe after London 2012, and then Brailsford will be looking for another suitable backer, probably with a strong UK presence.

The Inner Ring April 6, 2011 at 10:51 pm

CD: when he returns my calls, I’ll pass on the message.

Andy Powers: that’s been my thought but…

STB: …puts a powerful case in favour of the sponsorship. It’s important to remember as said that the cycling team is a big budget affair for followers of the sport but small change for News Corp.

I’d also add the potential for corporate hospitality, having speeches and images of victory for the board and clients etc.

Larry T. April 6, 2011 at 11:29 pm

They say road cycling’s the “new golf” and let’s face it, the money spent on the team, etc. is, for Murdoch’s vast empire, merely “a second’s income shot to hell” As it is with so many wealthy patrons of pro cycling, genuine publicity value is rarely the real issue, more often the rich guy just likes cycling and wants to support it and play in the big-leagues….like the guy who’s backing the Schleck operation. I hope the interest continues despite Murdoch Jr’s move to NYC!

Mat April 7, 2011 at 5:23 am

Unless I am mistaken, the 2012 Olympics will be broadcast (in the UK) on the BBC. This freezes Sky out of one of the biggest TV viewing events. By backing the UK cycle setup they will get to see their brand front and centre during the Olympics worn by the most successuful of the UK athletes – even if they will be coming second to the Aussies.

The true test will be what happens after this sponsorship deal is up. And for that I think it is only partly in the Team Sky’s hands and partly in McQuaids. If the UCI cannot get professional in their administration of the sport then the big sponsors will stay away and find a better return for their dollar.

Rob April 7, 2011 at 12:41 pm

@Mat – I don’t think Sky will get any exposure at the Olympics as the riders there will be wearing kit provided/designed/approved by the BOA, _not_ British Cycling (and definitely not Team Sky)

Andy Powers April 7, 2011 at 12:48 pm

I’ve heard the Olympic argument before, but if that’s the only goal then why bother with sponsoring anything other than the track team? If you were looking for coverage for the road then surely sponsoring a women’s road team would be much more sensible, given the quality of the current crop of female British riders?

As for good PR, then surely the Skyride initiative gives them that in spades, as it is all about raising participation in cycling which is seen as a good thing.

Sponsoring a professional road team in a sport that has a major image problem just doesn’t make sense to me.

Anon April 7, 2011 at 10:04 pm

This article is pretty inaccurate from what I understand.

Yes JM is a hobby cyclist. Not a mega keen one though. Cycling was identified as a sport that Sky could develop and gain some good exposure as well as put something back to the community. Their goals of getting an extra million cyclists in the UK as well as getting 1/4 of their workforce commuting on bikes are as important to them as the famed British tour winner.

Sky isn’t yet owned fully by news international so any decisions like this have been taken by Sky initially and then rubber stamped where appropriate by news international.

I hate to say it but if you had read Cycling Weekly you would know all of this.

The Inner Ring April 7, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Anon: all true and I’m aware of what you are saying. It’s just I hope we’d agree JM is key to the strategy and here’s hoping he stays interested.

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